USDA ARS researchers develop better way to make SAF from soybean oil

November 25, 2021 |

In Illinois, scientists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Peoria, Illinois, have developed a way to make a better jet biofuel from soybean oil.

Fatty acids from soybean oil can be turned into an array of industrial products normally made from petroleum, including fuel, ink and paints. One appeal of plant-based products is that they recycle carbon found in the atmosphere. This makes plants a far more renewable resource than petroleum and other fossil fuels, which add carbon to the atmosphere as they’re extracted from the earth and used.

However, soy jet fuels developed to date contain insufficient amounts of “aromatic” compounds, which impart desirable density to fuel and help keep jet engine seals supple and working properly. The current shortcoming of aromatic levels in soy jet fuel means less of it can be blended with conventional jet fuels derived from petroleum.

One approach to making soy jet fuel relies on the use of a precious metal called ruthenium to catalyze reactions that chemically modify the structure and properties of the oil’s unsaturated fatty acids. The problem with this approach is that it generates too few aromatic compounds.

To get around the problem, ARS scientists replaced ruthenium with iridium as the chief catalyst in a six-step procedure that they devised and received a patent in November.

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Category: Research

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